House joins Senate in passing PFAS bill

Workers examine a wide roll of fiberglass fabric at the North Bennington ChamFab plant in the 1970s. The plant is believed to be a source of PFOA contamination affecting area wells.

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont House has followed the Senate in passing by an overwhelming majority a bill assessing and further regulating PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) in drinking water supplies and throughout the environment.

The House on Wednesday passed the bill S.49 on a vote of 135-1. The Senate in March approved the legislation on a 29 to 0 vote.

Rep. Amy Sheldon, D-Middlebury, chairwoman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish, and Wildlife, said in a release Wednesday, "This bill is integral in creating a healthier and safer environment for all Vermonters. PFAS are found in everyday products such as non-stick cookware, stain-resistant fabrics and carpets, and cosmetics. These substances can be toxic to humans in extremely small concentrations and unfortunately have been found in public and private water supplies in Vermont. This bill establishes regulatory monitoring of Vermont drinking waters to ensure that Vermonters remain safe and manufacturers are held accountable for their waste."

Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, a principal sponsor of the bill, along with Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy Chairman Christopher Bray, D-Addison, and others, said Wednesday, "I'm very pleased with the House vote on this bill. 135-1 is impressive and shows how important this issue is to all Vermonters. The administration has worked closely with us during the process so I would be surprised if the governor did not sign S.49 into law."

"Overall, I am very pleased that they've taken this bill up and moved it in a timely way," Bray said. "S.49 will provide the most protective clean water standard in the United States, both for drinking water supplies and for surface waters, such as rivers, lakes, and streams. Vermonters have the right to expect government to protect them from poisons in our public waters, especially those poisons that are invisible, odorless, and tasteless — and that's what S.49 does."

Monitoring and testing

The bill will require additional monitoring and testing for PFAS substances, or other compounds that are in the same group as PFOA, in Vermont's lakes and streams as well as in drinking water supplies. PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) contamination around two former ChemFab Corp. factories in Bennington was determined by the state to be the source of widespread pollution in groundwater and several hundred local wells.

After passage by the Senate, Campion said that the bill would result in "overall testing of water for levels of PFAS," and setting of allowable maximum levels, and it "would start a process so we can learn more about how much or how little these chemicals have infiltrated our waters."

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The bill also will require leachate from landfills to be tested and treated for polyfluoroalkyl substances before discharge into the waters of the state.

Campion said last week that he is concerned about the possible spread of PFAS chemicals that might remain in wastewater plant sludge, which often is spread on farm fields as fertilizer.

"Because PFAS are highly resistant to degradation, they persist in our environment for a very long time and we need a system in place that ensures safe drinking water for Vermonters across the state," said Rep. Trevor Squirrell, D-Underhill, ranking member of the House committee, who presented the bill on the floor.

Squirrell said that exposure to PFAS have been linked to growth, learning, and behavior problems in infants and children, fertility and pregnancy problems, and other serious medical concerns, adding in the release, "That is why on or before December 1, 2019, all public water systems in Vermont will be required to conduct monitoring for PFAS levels. If high levels are found, the Agency of Natural Resources will require drinking supply managers to lower the levels to ensure public health and safety."

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, stated, "We are committed to a clean water future for all Vermonters in order to have healthy families and healthy communities. This bill will provide information so that Vermonters can be certain that their drinking water is safe. Access to clean drinking water is a right, not a privilege. Not only will this bill ensure clean drinking water, but it will improve and protect our waterways."

Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont, including the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. Twitter: @BB_therrien


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